06. 14. 2013. 15:22

A Szentkuthy renaissance

Although acknowledged as one of the most innovative writers of the 20th century, Szentkuthy’s oeuvre remains largely unknown even within Europe. However, with his long-awaited publication into English by Contra Mundum Press, he is beginning to gain greater prominence.

In September of 2012, Contra Mundum Press published Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova, beginning at last the Anglophone reception of Szentkuthy. Although award-winning translator Tim Wilkinson had rendered brief excerpts of his work into English as early as 2005, no American or British publisher had ever expressed interest in Szentkuthy before. Marginalia on Casanova, featuring an original cover design by renowned Hungarian artist István Orosz, was then the first ever publication of an entire book of Szentkuthy’s in English translation. Within one month, Prof. Nicholas Birns of Eugene Lang College, the first reviewer of the book, declared that “Szentkuthy will unquestionably enter and alter the canon of twentieth-century literature as we know it.”

As Rainer J. Hanshe, the founder of Contra Mundum Press recalls, “I knew immediately upon reading the excerpt of Marginalia on Casanova which Tim [Wilkinson] had translated that Szentkuthy was an author of considerable magnitude and vision; or that, at very least, Marginalia on Casanova was an unquestionably singular and fascinating text. After reading József J. Fekete’s article “Outprousting Proust,” I was not only further intrigued but also convinced of the importance of publishing Szentkuthy. I also trusted the sensibility and taste of my friend Kristóf Fenyvesi, who avowed that if I publish a translation of Prae, it would make literary history. And with each text of Szentkuthy’s that I read, I realized that my original intuition was accurate – not only was I standing before an author of magnitude and vision, but one with astonishing variety, one often far in advance of his contemporaries, and terrifyingly prodigious. It was clear too that what was deemed innovative in other writers – not only in the following generation in Hungary, but in Europe as well – was clearly presaged and realized long before by Szentkuthy, in particular in Prae. In short, I recognized that Szentkuthy was a writer equal in stature and significance to the lions of the 20th century (Proust, Musil, Joyce, etc.) and that it was imperative that his work be rendered in English and the Anglophone world made more aware of it, that Szentkuthy at last begin to have a wider reception within the genealogy of Weltliteratur. That he has been largely absent from such a canon is unjust and I felt it a cultural duty that his work enter the world stage and not suffer from further ghettoization.”

Contra Mundum Press has chosen Szentkuthy as its featured and primary author, and intends on publishing one book of Szentkuthy’s every year. Additionally, in July 2013 they will devote a special issue of their art journal, Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics, to Szentkuthy. The issue will include not only review-essays by literary historians but translations of new material as well as other work. Furthermore, the publisher intends on staging various events around Szentkuthy’s work, including readings at bookstores, as well as conferences, symposiums, and collaborations with other artists, such as László Kreutz, who recently completed a full-length composition based on Marginalia on Casanova, a CD that will be released in late 2013. Through the international conference that they plan on staging in Berlin in 2014, they will introduce Szentkuthy’s works to a wider European public.

As Hanshe says, “the development of the readership of Szentkuthy, as with every writer, is a slow and patient process, one which occurs gradually over time, with patient, diligent, and concerted efforts. Yet there already seems to be a compelling interest in his work. Although Contra Mundum has published books by Fernando Pessoa and Friedrich Nietzsche amongst others, no other publication of ours has generated such impassioned or devoted readers. I am convinced that, with its multiple efforts, the 21st century will be the century of Szentkuthy’s renaissance, and the publication of each new translation of his work into English will compel readers, scholars, and literary historians to reconsider not only the Central European literary canon, but the canon of world literature too.” Hanshe believes that Szentkuthy “truly embodies — perhaps more than any other writer — Goethe’s notion of world literature.”

After the publication of Towards the One & Only Metaphor in August 2013, the next Szentkuthy books on Contra Mundum’s agenda are the monumental Prae, then Narcissus’ Mirror, Chapter about Love, and Black Renaissance. After that, Hanshe says, they “intend on publishing other titles, and eventually, Szentkuthy’s entire oeuvre, including whatever can be translated of the diary”.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the writer’s death (July 2013) as well as the opening of the first part of his diary, written between 1932–1947, and sealed for almost thirty years. This will certainly be a momentous event as Szentkuthy confessed before his death that his ‘real works’ were contained in his diary, spanning almost sixty years.

Some of Szentkuthy’s books have so far been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and Slovakian. With ten books translated into French, the most significant presence of the writer outside of Hungary exists in France. To date, Szentkuthy has yet to be translated into German or Italian.

Reviews on Marginalia on Casanova: The Guardian, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Complete Review, Hungarian Literature Online. Essay on Szentkuthy: The Berlin Review of Books. Rainer Hanshe’s introduction to Towards the One & Only Metaphor and an excerpt from the book: Asymptote.

Tags: Miklós Szentkuthy